Welcome back. I want to start by saying that I think the level of discourse yesterday was absolutely fantastic. There was a lot of respect offered to various viewpoints and I think the discussion moved forward instead of in circles. I’d like to see that again today, so let’s get started.
Of course they do. RBI tell you how good a team is at scoring runs (runs also do this). But this isn’t really the source of our debate. Instead the debate is, do RBI work as an individual stat to tell you how good a player is? The answer to that is no.
It might be best to think about RBI as like wins. I don’t think there is anyone left who would argue that a starting pitchers is solely responsible for who wins the game. The offense has to score. The defense has to do its job. The bullpen has to not blow up. There are a lot of factors. RBI are the same way.
In recent comments, a lot of you have been pulling up RBI percentages and I was gearing up to address that, but there is actually an excellent piece in the Enquirer today that deals well with that. You should go read it. But basically what it says is that, if you take a wide view, you see that the percentage of runners a player drives in varies greatly from season to season and that one season’s percentage doesn’t tell you how good a player is driving in runs.
And that’s accurate. When you’re looking at how well a player drives in runs (at least, when he isn’t hitting solo homers), what you’re really looking at is average with RISP, and we talked about that yesterday. Batting average or any subset of it simply requires a much larger sample than we’ll get in one season before it becomes reliable.
One thing I do want to address before I stop (today will be much shorter than yesterday), is why, contrary to what Dusty says, getting on base is actually more important – in a long term sense – than driving in runs.
Imagine two teams. These teams each have nine identical hitters. Team A has 9 hitters with an OPS of 1.000. Team B has 9 hitters with an OPS of 1.250.
These are awesome teams, both. But they come buy their OPS’s in very different ways.
The “hitters” on team A never get a hit. Their slugging is .000. But they walk every plate appearance. The hitters in on team B only hit homers and they hit them once every four at bats, so they bat .250 and slug 1.000.
Which team scores more runs?
The answer of course, it team A. Team B is an offensive force, good for 9 runs a game. But team A never makes an out, so desptie the lower OPS, they score an infinite number of runs.
That’s a really extreme example, but it works the same way when you scale it down. In baseball, the outs are the clock, so the fewer outs you make the more you will score.
So, let’s finish like yesterday and ask what we actually know about this season:
1. Brandon Phillips has a lot of RBIs because Choo and Votto are getting on like crazy in front of him (the two players hitting in front of Hack Wilson when he set the modern RBI record, had OBPs very like those Choo and Votto are putting up).
2. Joey Votto is not driving in as many runs as we might expect.
3. The rate at which a player drives in runs does not tell you anything about the future.
4. Driving in runs is not as important as getting on base.
Brandon Phillips is a fine baseball player, but he’s not a great hitter and he does not have special RBI skills. The Luck Dragon has been his friend this year so far. We shouldn’t expect it to continue, but he will have high totals as long as Choo and Votto hit in front of him.
But he’s not Joey Votto. Votto is the best player on this team and he will be for a while yet.
Oh, and if you still believe that the best run producer is the player who drives in the most runs, just remember, you’re saying that right now, you’d rather have Brandon Phillips than Willie Mays because Mays never led the league in RBI.
Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.